Get With The Flo

11 11 2009

Just in case you can’t get enough television in your life, you can now get it in your car. And on your phone. Well, not in Amarillo yet, but if you happen to live in one of the top 100 media markets in the US, this is now a reality.

Flo TV is mobile TV for the 21C. It’s like cable TV, but without the cable. And while its channel lineup reads more like basic cable, it’s a quantum leap in being able to take even more media with you wherever you go. Chrysler (or is that Fiat?) just announced it will be offering Flo TV service in many of its vehicles starting in December of this year.

Live television in a moving vehicle is not exactly a new idea. RVs and rock star buses have had in-motion satellite for most of this decade, but the hardware is very expensive (often over $2500), and the service a bit pricey (just like your standard home satellite subscriptions). Flo TV, though, comes in under $700, with monthly fees that may be as low as $10 per month. It can be retrofitted to your existing vehicle, so you don’t have to run out and buy a new Chrysler/Fiat.

Now as a parent of young children, I will be quick to say that the DVD system we have is a trip-saver. While Mom and Dad get sick of hearing the same movies over and over, it beats a never-ending chorus of “Are We There Yet?” Live television wold make that much easier to complete long trips.

But it is the uneven service area that bothers me. In fact, Flo TV’s coverage map looks almost as bad as ATT’s 3G coverage (providing ample fodder for Verizon). Flo TV is “broadcast” like cell phone signals, but on a different frequency (the former UHF channel 55). In fact, Qualcomm, the developer of Flo TV, plans to take things a step farther by offering PTV, the portable personal television device. In other words, if you live in the coverage area, TV will be ubiquitous. Car. Phone. Pocket.

If anything, all these devices are just going to continue driving a wedge between people. It will give us one more opportunity to zone out and isolate ourselves from everyone else. I can just envision the family trip of the future: Kids in the back watching Nickelodeon, Dad watching or listening to ESPN, and Mom tuned in to LMN. What a fun trip this is going to be.

Maybe we should just go back to playing I Spy. At least I might actually know my children by the time we get there.

Dr “But I’ll Probably Buy It Anyway” Gerlich

Flipped Out

11 11 2009

Sometimes unusual events can produce unusual results. You never would have seen it coming, but once it happens, it all makes perfect sense.

The H1N1 virus has caused WTAMU, like all other schools and universities, to reconsider what it might do if there were a localized outbreak. We have relaxed attendance policies this semester, and also encouraged professors to look for alternate ways of delivering their course content to students in the event that they (the professor) or large numbers of students simply could not be present.

About this same time, WT has been forging a technology relationship with Cisco, including all the very cool digital signage throughout the newly remodeled Classroom Center. Among the many other items we purchased from them were 250 Flip Ultra HD camcorders. Faculty can check these out for doing whatever it takes to add video to their classes via the WTClass portal.

While I would never say it was serendipitous that the H1N1 caused us to put extremely simple yet powerful technology in the hands of the faculty, let’s just say that the time is right to plaster our classes with video. Everywhere.

In just a few days I have flipped (sorry) over my Flip Ultra HD. I’ve been shooting test clips like crazy, and plan to deploy it very soon in my courses. It is the best thing since flash drives (and only $179).

And speaking of which, that’s the guts of the machine…an 8GB flash drive that captures up to 2 hours of HD video (720p). It comes out to about 1MB per second, which is pretty “heavy” when it comes to individual files. But these files can be compressed before uploading to the web, and anyone with broadband can easily download them.

Heck, we also have the technology at WT to load the clips to our video portal, accessible to all and complete with a “media player sniffer” that automatically loads the proper video format for you…even for smartphones.

And what does the rest of the world think of these handy little pocket-sized cameras? A lot. I have now heard of TV stations assigning a Flip to all of their reporters so they might cover breaking news if the film crew hasn’t yet arrived. The video quality is so high that it’s good enough for television.

And if you have the HDMI cable, you can also connect yours straight to your TV for home viewing.

I have been teaching online since 1997, and in those 12 years about the only new product that produced as much excitement for me was my old 60GB iPod with the after-market microphone. But podcasts are now pretty lame, and the Flip picks up where the iPod left off.

I could close by saying that I’ll see you soon, but it is really the opposite. You will be seeing me. Lots of me.

Whether you’ll be flipping in the parking lot over that is open to debate, but I bet you’re at least awed with the technology. And I hope you completely viral with it.

Dr “Video Killed The Text Star” Gerlich